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Read Niren Tolsi’s Full Ruth First Memorial Lecture: ‘Fire and Media: Towards a New South African Journalism’

He used fire (as a metaphor) and actual reporting on fire on SA newspapers and websites to interrogate the state of journalism in the country.

Award-winning South African journalist and editor Niren Tolsi delivered the 15th Annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) last night. His paper, titled Fire and Media: Towards a New South African Journalism, focused on the state of South African media.


Tolsi used fire (as a metaphor) and actual reporting on fire on SA newspapers and websites to interrogate the state of journalism in the country. For instance, he made a contrast between two reports about fire that revealed how SA media's reporting is biased towards a certain group of the population.

A formula from @NirenTolsi News vitality = social media X outrage + attention. #ruthfirstpic.twitter.com/hN6unkc1iM

In one report, two black children were burned, and he notes the scantiness of the reports compared to the detail on reports about a fire incident that killed a white family.

In the paper, he also questions if journalists are doing what they are supposed to, for instance giving a voice to the voiceless. He questions their credibility and the reliance on social media to determine what gets reported on, among other things.

An excerpt:

"Is this what journalists do in South Africa in 2018? Are we, as the cliché goes, writing history's first draft? If so, are we writing for future generations and what will their interest in the news be — if any? And in the present, for whose interest do we write the news? Are we mindful of the agendas of our sources? Do we report without fear or favour? Do we speak truth to power regardless of whether it is white capital or "black government"? Do we place a microphone to the mouths of those who are voiceless and extend the public sphere to the marginalised?"

Just like his journalistic work, the lecture is lyrical, critical and erudite.

The Ruth First Memorial Lecture honors Ruth First, a Wits graduate, journalist, activist, researcher, and intellectual. She was killed by a letter-bomb parcel sent by the apartheid government to her office at Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique on 17 August 1982. The Ruth First Memorial Lecture is now known as a podium for some of South Africa's journalists to share new thought on the South African discourse.

Read Niren Tolsi's Ruth First Memorial Lecture here.

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